Over 1,000 Young Preachers have attended the National Festival of Young Preachers since the first Festival in 2010. Over 1,000 students, ministers, and others inspired to preach could tell you their story of how they came to their first Festival. For some, it was through a school. For others, a mentor or a friend encouraged them to come. For a few, it was something they came across on Facebook. But for Ernest A. Brooks III, AoP ’11 and President of the Academy of Preachers, his Festival Story started with the Festival he missed.

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Ernest first learned about the National Festival of Young Preachers from his mentor, Rev. Dr. Lawrence Edward Carter Sr., Dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College. Dr. Dwight A. Moody, AoP founder and then-president, introduced his idea for a National Festival of Young Preachers to Dean Carter who immediately began recruiting current Morehouse students and recent alumni seminarians, including Ernest, to participate in the inaugural National Festival of Young Preachers hosted by St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, KY,“I was interested and intrigued by the concept at the time, but I had just been called to serve as the pastor of my childhood congregation, the Mt. Shiloh Baptist Church in Williamston, North Carolina.” Ernest’s new church had important services on New Year’s Eve and the first Sunday of the year, so he passed on the opportunity to attend the inaugural National Festival. “Being only six months into my first pastorate, I decided that it was unwise for me to travel to Kentucky for the National Festival during such a busy season in the life of the congregation..”

So the first ever National Festival of Young Preachers came and went while Ernest faithfully attended to his congregation. For many, this would be the end of the story–missed opportunity that becomes lost in the past. Instead, missing the opportunity to preach at the first National Festival was the beginning of a journey that would eventually propel Ernest to lead the Academy of Preachers.

“After hearing the testimonies of friends and colleagues that participated in the 2010 National Festival and seeing the videos of sermons from the festival, I knew that I had to be there in 2011.”

The next year he made sure that he was among the 100+ Young Preachers who descended upon Louisville’s historic Seelbach Hotel for the 2011 National Festival of Young Preachers. Even the drive was memorable. “I vividly remember packing up my car, driving from North Carolina over the mountains of Tennessee to Kentucky to preach in the National Festival, and then driving back to North Carolina on Saturday evening in order to get back to Williamston with enough time to be in the pulpit on Sunday morning, where I preached a revised version of the sermon I delivered at the festival, “And there was Light!”

The Festival made its mark. “That was a significant experience for me. I had been preaching at that time for about 8 years. I was new in the pastorate and I was also a graduate student in the MDiv program at Duke Divinity School. Although I was preaching multiple times a week as a pastor and guest preacher, I valued the opportunity to come to the festival to meet, hear and get inspiration from young preachers from so many traditions, perspectives and parts of the country. Unlike anything I had experienced before, all of those ingredients mixed together to form a beautiful ‘ecumenical stew’ of ministry and spirituality.” He was inspired by the diversity, and how it brought everyone together for a purpose. “We knew that we weren’t all going to agree theologically or preach the same way, but we were going to learn from one another and leave different from how we came. It truly was an Acts 2 Pentecost experience!”

Ernest decided to bring a taste of the Festival back to his church. “That experience inspired me and really gave me new energy to return to my congregation and to be intentional about widening my own frameworks as well as those of the congregation I was blessed to serve. It gave me the energy to be able to introduce the congregation to diverse perspectives and bring some of the National Festival experience into my ministry. Later that year, I invited several of my Duke Divinity classmates to join me in the pulpit for a “tag team” preaching experience inspired by my festival experience”

Almost nine years ago, a seminary student and first-time pastor missed out on an exciting opportunity. For most people, that would be the end of the story. For Ernest, it was just the beginning. Today he’s President of the Academy of Preachers. That’s his Festival Story.

What will yours be?

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*The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author(s) or speaker(s) and do not represent the beliefs or positions of the Academy of Preachers. The distribution of content by Academy of Preachers is an effort to fulfill our mission to Identify, Network, Support, and Inspire young people in their call to gospel preaching. Our network and participants are widely diverse in geography, ethnicity, culture, gender, theology, tradition, and practice. We give space for those in our network to contribute their unique voices to a global conversation on gospel preaching and Christian ministry. 

Ernest A. Brooks III is the President and CEO of the Academy of Preachers. An ordained Baptist minister, Ernest previously served as Senior Pastor of the Mount Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church of Williamston, North Carolina and Assistant Dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. He also served as interim Chief Operating Officer of MovementForward, Inc., and Special Assistant to the Chief Executive Officer of The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, GA.

Ernest lives in Atlanta, GA with his wife Keneta, an academic administrator at Georgia State University.


This article was written by Nick Bettis based on an interview with Ernest Brooks.